They saw themselves in the art. And, the response was exponentially more powerful, and
empowering, than they’d imagined.
A chance conversation and invitation turned into opportunity for a network of young Jackson creatives when renowned contemporary artist Nick Cave came to town to open his show at the Mississippi Museum of Art. He became the catalyst, they became the creators/curators and their “Beyond the Cave,” a call and response to his dazzling works, drew a whole new crowd to the museum, plus opened doors and laid groundwork for more to come.
“Nick Cave: Feat.” remains on view at the Mississippi Museum of Art through Feb. 16. “Beyond the Cave,” a recent evening of song, spoken word, poetry and dance, brought in dozens of local artists to share perspectives and performance within the museum galleries.
Cave’s exuberant, colorful art — exploding across a variety of media and materials
— addresses themes of social justice, memory, transformation, African American experience and more. The young black artists he’d encountered took him up on his invitation to the opening. They came out of curiosity and found an inspiring wellspring of emotion and connection to his art.
“After we experienced the exhibition, we were just so overwhelmed with his work,” says Jasmine Williams (aka Kim Shadey and creator of Sipp Talk media company), who’d come with Charity and Miranda Hicks (rapper Vitamin Cea and poet Neo Soul, respectively) and Meredith Williams (videographer/designer MDub). “This was something that was completely new for all of us.”
The artists made a beeline for each other at the opening, the Jackson crew sharing their
admiration and Cave lighting the spark: They should do an event — a call and response — at the museum. The women weren’t immediately sure what that call meant, but “OK” was their response.
“We knew we had an opportunity to bring more people into the museum,” says Williams; as a gallery attendant, she’s seen the need to wrap younger people and different backgrounds into the museum experience. She and her colleagues became the curators, the museum’s Adrienne Chadwick helped coordinate and the museum’s Center for Art and Public Exchange (CAPE) provided funding. A flurry of activity pulled it together inside of two months, to catch a crowd before the exhibit’s close.
“It was really an experiment,” says CAPE managing director Monique Davis. It sprang from a spontaneous conversation into a full-blown, community-driven event. “In that way, it was real. It was organic. It was something from the ground up. It was not something we initiated. So, it was really exciting.”
The Beyond the Cave Artist Showcase involved more than 42 paid Mississippi artists
— designers, photographers, musicians, emcees and performers — and pulled more than 300 visitors, over two shows, along on a journey through “Nick Cave: Feat.” Guest clustered near the artists (and each other) with cozy, barrier-breaking intimacy, experiencing art and effect up close and personal. Digitally, the event reached 1,000.
Meeting Cave and seeing his art “changed my life,” Williams said in her intro. Before that, “I didn’t recognize how important it is to see myself in art, and to share it with people who look like me and my community.”
Models in black T-shirts with “Please do not touch the art,” strode and posed around the runway of Cave’s signature Soundsuits, their costume and makeup touches inspired by the bold, expressive works. “I want this to be a reminder to everyone, that our culture is valuable,” Williams said. “Just like these Soundsuits are up on a pedestal and they’re being revered as a high art, you are also an original piece that cannot be duplicated.”
The journey continued through the exhibition exploring themes of anxiety and dignity, ancestry and pride, inequality and injustice, spirituality and inner wholeness. Chicago-based Cave’s plans to come were confounded by the weather that weekend, so the museum Skyped him in.
Cave demonstrated art’s transformative power on the lives of people who experience it,
museum director Betsy Bradley said. “Nick was personally touched by the creativity and energy of the young artists involved with ‘Beyond the Cave,’ and he coached them to prepare responses to his work that rippled out to touch so many other lives.” It reinforced CAPE’s priority to bring artists, art-making and community together to address race and equity issues that affect all.
Response was overwhelmingly positive, Davis says. “We were excited to see the museum so full of energy,” with “Beyond the Cave,” and followed by Jackson’s Indie Music Week’s silent disco that night.
Visitor comments lauded the experience. “Showed us we can go BEYOND the limitations set in front of us. I loved it!” Dolla Black said. “It was fitting on MLK Weekend in the heart of Mississippi to have such social cross-pollination,” Councilman Melvin Priester Jr. said.
“‘Beyond the Cave’ … was something that our community needed, that we didn’t even
recognize would resonate as much as it did,” Williams says. “To hear all of the feedback, and see our people be emotional, being part of it … and seeing themselves in art, I think it was exactly what we intended it to be.
“We just wanted to create a safe space and to let people know they’re welcome in this space, and to bridge that community between the museum and other people of different backgrounds.”
It’s a bridge and connection they’ll continue to build. Ideas are in the works to create
programming for the museum’s ongoing “New Symphony in Time” exhibition and the upcoming “Van Gogh, Monet, Degas & Their Times” exhibition opening in April, Davis says. “We want to show there are themes that can connect to our community, regardless of their lived experience.”
On the more immediate horizon, Sipp Talk will help generate an open dialogue on the museum’s Third Thursday Feb. 20, themed “Black Art Now,” about people’s perceptions of museums, where those ideas come from, “and rewriting where we see ourselves now, in this space,” Williams says.